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Environ Sci Technol. 2012 May 1;46(9):5151-9. doi: 10.1021/es2042806. Epub 2012 Apr 20.

Breastfed infants metabolize perchlorate.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas 76019-0065, USA.


Bifidobacteria are the dominant intestinal bacteria in breastfed infants. It is known that they can reduce nitrate. Although no direct experiments have been conducted until now, inferred pathways for Bifidobacterium bifidum include perchlorate reduction via perchlorate reductase. We show that when commercially available strains of bifidobacteria are cultured in milk, spiked with perchlorate, perchlorate is consumed. We studied 13 breastfed infant-mother pairs who provided 43 milk samples and 39 infant urine samples, and 5 formula-fed infant-mother pairs who provided 21 formula samples and 21 infant urine samples. Using iodine as a conservative tracer, we determined the average urinary iodine (UI) to milk iodine (MI) concentration ratio to be 2.87 for the breastfed infants. For the same samples, the corresponding perchlorate concentration ratio was 1.37 (difference significant, p < 0.001), indicating that perchlorate is lost. For the formula fed infant group the same ratios were 1.20 and 1.58; the difference was not significant (p = 0.68). However, the small number of subjects in the latter group makes it more difficult to conclude definitively whether perchlorate reduction does or does not occur.

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